During my travel to Delhi and  Gurgaon last week, I was grateful to meet few friends and colleagues from the past, and learn about their personal experiences, which included positive and challenging ones.  One theme that stood out during past weeks is the ‘richness and wisdom of life experiences’.  My personal experiences may also have led to the topic.

That raised a question and thinking in my mind:

“Who would you hire for a leadership role? ” 

Would you look for someone with a wide range and depth of personal life experiences, especially tough ones (in addition to the ‘non-negotiable competencies’ for the role)?  If failure, disappointment or grief have not been a part of those, then the character and resolve have not been tested or developed sufficiently.  It would also be worthwhile to search for how one has progressed through those experiences, managed, learned and evolved from it.

Life experiences come in various forms involving a range of emotions, challenges and evolution.  Challenging life experiences are the ones that truly test and build one’s character.  They also hold the potential to break down a person’s resolve and few may find it extremely hard to recover.  Many find new ways of coping and managing, with partial or continued recovery.

Couple of key elements of life experiences are depth and variety.   When one goes through the deep emotions, feelings and can emerge from there, there seems to be a stronger emergence with transformation.  In such cases, there seems to be a process of reflection through pain, adjustment, resolve, action and feeling of personal growth.  Some people choose to do very different work that involves high personal meaning and less tangible rewards, while walking away from lucrative jobs.

Noticeable traits of individuals who have gone through tough life experiences and have evolved are a strong Resolve and Calmness in the face of hardship and adversity, Humility (which comes with the realization that not everything is in one’s control, difficult things can happen to anyone), Respect (including empathy for other human beings), Openness (to exploring), strong Internal Value System and high Spiritual Intelligence/Quotient (strong belief system to help navigate through good and difficult times).  Have you noticed others?

These factors would apply for any roles but leadership roles are crucial for any organization, especially non-profits and in government.  Leaders can influence and impact the flow of emotions within a team or organization in a substantial manner.  Awareness, wisdom and maturity are important and they are mainly developed through varied life experiences (not necessarily with age).  Some people learn and others choose not to learn and evolve.  The pace of evolution can be different.

I leave you with the following reflection from Northwestern University’s Centre for Leadership web page:

“As a leader, one of the most important things you can do is to thoughtfully reflect upon your most challenging experiences (Leadership Crucibles) to understand what they can teach you.  In the book, “Finding Your True North” the authors write that crucibles are times when you come face-to-face with yourself and recognize that…during the most difficult times of your life … you have the opportunity to confront who you are at the deepest level and realize what your life – and your leadership – are about. By digging deeper into your life story, you will have the opportunity to focus on the crucial aspects that can help you unlock your development as a leader.”

Wish you the very best.

“I’m proud of the scars in my soul.  They remind me that I have an intense life.” – Paulo Coelho